How Okorocha Steps On The Catholic Church
By Austin Echefu
Governor Rochas Okorocha has come a long way with the Catholic Church in Imo State. In 2011 he was their darling for the governorship election as he ran under the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
Governor Okorocha rode to power on the wings of propaganda against Governor Ikedi Ohakim, particularly, that Ikedi Ohakim beat a Reverend Father, when it was not so. This propaganda was bought by the Church and all efforts to convince the public otherwise failed then. But 8 years after the propaganda it seems as if a scale has fallen from the eyes of Imo people as they have realised that Ikedi Ohakim did not even see the said Reverend Father.
The Catholic Church seemed to have bought the falsehood and many of the priests and members were reported to have worked against Ohakim’s second term bid, with many of the priests serving as electoral officers. But few months into Governor Okorocha’s first term in office the bubble burst.
First, the Governor was accused of issuing a dud cheque to the church. Speaking on the dud cheque, fiery Rev Father Ejike Mbaka lamented during a church service at the Adoration ground in Enugu State that Imo State was going through a tough time in the hands of Governor Okorocha, revealing that the Archbishop was weeping over the dud cheque issued the Church by the Governor.
He said: “A lot of funny things are happening in Imo State now. Workers are sacked with impunity. Governor Okorocha gave the Archbishop a N50 million cheque that bounced and this is supposed to be a Catholic Church”.
The Governor has also been accused of cutting all ties with the Archbishop of Owerri, AJV Obinna. The frosty relationship between the Catholic Church and Governor Okorocha came to light with the reported attack on the Assumpta Cathederal during the governorship debate of 2015 organized by the Catholic Church in Owerri.
Reports said that youths loyal to the Governor attacked the Odenigbo Center located inside the Cathederal, scattering the podium while the Archbishop was said to have been whisked away to safety by some Reverend Fathers.
Though a Catholic, Okorocha had been reported to have always derided the Archbishop, declaring himself the spiritual father of Imo State. He was also said to have stopped worshipping at the Assumpta Cathederal, Owerri, preferring to worship at the Government house Chapel he built after demolishing the state library, where he presides and oftentimes gives the sermon.
In December 2017, Governor Okorocha in a deft move changed the popular Assumpta Avenue to Muhammadu Buhari Road, drawing the ire of the Catholic Cbhurch. The Assumpta Avenue which has stayed for decade has the ZIP Code 460211, starting from the old state library, in front of the state government house, to the Maria Assumpta Cathederal.
The renaming of the Maria Assumpta Avenue did not go down well with Imo people, especially the Catholics. But with combined pressure from the Church and Imo people on the new name, the state government blamed it on the workman’s error, saying that those who made the signs made the mistake. The government also claimed that Assumpta Avenue did not stretch up to the government but rather stopped at the Orlu Road Junction, also called Warehouse Junction, adding that they did not intend to change the name of the road.
The Commissioner for Information, Prof Nnamdi Obiareri, who spoke on the development said: “Assumpta Avenue is symbolic for both religious and historic reasons in Imo State, and these facts are not lost on the government and people of Imo State. All inconveniences occasioned by the initial oversight or error of wrongly installing a street sign, suggesting a renaming of the street is highly regretted”.
The Commissioner’s reaction came as the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, denied the renaming of the road, boasting that the Governor would do anything he wished.
“For the umpteenth time, we have subtly told our audience that the opposition to Governor Rochas Okorocha’s administration in Imo only exists on the social media. This is the fact. The social media has become their tool and they have been doing it unwisely, ungodly and unintelligently.
“The latest of their balderdash was the claim that the government has changed Maria Assumpta Avenue to Muhammadu Buhari Road, for which they, as usual, claimed that Owerri was boiling.
“And our only concern is that some people who should know better and detach falsehood from the truth at times fail to do this. And that is the reason we are now responding. Otherwise, we cannot be spending our God-given time responding to frivolities.
“The truth is that Muhammadu Buhari Road begins from Government House Roundabout and ends at the popular Orlu Road Roundabout. Maria Assumpta Avenue begins at Control Post Roundabout and stops at the Warehouse Roundabout. The indications are all there boldly written for all to see”.
As if not enough, Governor Okorocha’s brushes with the mother-church would come to what some people have described as the climax, with the recent attack on the Archibishop of Owerri, Most Reverend AJV Obinna, at a burial mass in Mwgoma Obube Community in Owerri North LGA on March 3, 2018.
According to reports, the Archbishop was attacked by the members of the Ugwumba Movement, a political movement for the governorship ambition of Uche Nwosu led by Jeff Nwoha, Governor OKorocha’s Chief of Staff and son in-law, over his comments considered by the group as anti the Okorocha’s administration.
The Archbishop who is seen by many as the voice of the people had told the Governor in the presence of his wife and son in-law whom he had anointed to succeed him, that “What we need is a democratically elected Governor and not a handpicked successor”, adding that Governor Okorocha cannot succeed himself and that pushing his son in-law, Uche Nwosu, to replace him means an indirect way of succeeding himself.
“You cannot impose anyone on the people. The people’s votes will decide. We have become miserable. Imo is now an empty basket. Rebuilding Imo State and restoring its dignity is a challenge. Get your voter’s cards. Let us vote for mature, responsible citizens who will serve the people and not dominate them.
“Imo needs a seasoned technocrat who will right the wrongs and correct the several anomalies and hardship inflicted on the people by the present administration and not the Governor’s stooge who lacks the experience and maturity needed for such exalted office”, the Archbishop said.